The steel suspended space lab in Japan

Materials World magazine
28 May 2019

A suspended space lab is expected to start construction in 2020 on a former mining site in Japan.

A diamond-shaped building, part of the Avatar X project, will be suspended 18m over a crater using a stainless steel suspension cable system to house a cutting edge facility for robotics research.

The partnership between ANA Holdings Inc and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), designed by Clouds Architecture Office in New York, USA, will consist of several facilities in an enclosed cylinder, and a moon terrain simulation.

Inspired by space architecture and aviation, the lab will get its unique shape from wrapping panels of semi-opaque and transparent fluoropolymer membranes around a steel frame. To make it as light as possible, the lab will have carbon-fibre partitions, honeycomb floor plates and fibre-reinforced plastic trims.

University of Tokyo Associate Professor and Structural Engineer, Jun Sato, said to give stabilisation, a set of compression elements are both balanced and opposed by a constant tensile force that generates internal prestress which stabilises the lab. ‘The spindle-type steel hub is a double quadrangular pyramid, 40m-high, with a convex frame that can work as compression elements so some beams inside this hub can
be tension elements, and the structure becomes lightweight,’ he said.

Clouds Architecture Office Project Architect, Masayuki Sono, told the World Steel Association, ‘With the application of a lightweight membrane enclosure system, it optimises structural attributes and wind resistance, forming a dynamic spiral space. After examining various material options, due to complex multiple criteria, steel was chosen as the most feasible and proven system to realise the unique design.’

Considering the location in Japan, factors such as horizontal and vertical vibration caused by earthquakes, ground conditions and thermal shrinkage of the cables, as well as gravity had to be considered. Sato proposed inserting leaf springs on the edges of the cables ‘something which is commonly used for the suspension in wheeled vehicles.’

According to JAXA, an aim of Avatar X is to enable remote construction in space by real-world avatars, operation and maintenance of space stations and facilities from Earth, with space-based entertainment and travel for the general public.